Mfat worker claimed she was targeted during restructure

By Hana Garrett-Walker

ERA member Greg Wood said the review was done for genuine reasons and the outcomes were ones which a fair and reasonable employer could have reached. Photo / Supplied
ERA member Greg Wood said the review was done for genuine reasons and the outcomes were ones which a fair and reasonable employer could have reached. Photo / Supplied

A senior Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade worker claimed she was deliberately targeted when her position was disestablished during restructuring last year and she was made redundant after more than 25 years in the organisation.

Jennifer McDonald was employed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Mfat) between 1986 and 2011 but when she was told her position was being disestablished she felt she was personally targeted and complained to the Employment Relations Authority (ERA).

From 2002 to 2009 Ms McDonald worked in the financial services unit of the management services group for NZ Aid - a semi-autonomous body responsible for New Zealand's aid efforts overseas but when, in 2009, NZ Aid was reintegrated into Mfat Ms McDonald's role was disestablished.

She was then given a new role as senior finance adviser in the international development group.

But last year a review of the finance team occurred and Ms McDonald's role was disestablished.

Ms McDonald said her manager, Kathryn McBride, and those above Ms McBride, had taken negative attitudes towards her and sought to terminate her role even before Ms McBride took over staff responsibilities.

She said the review of her role was completed by her manager with unreasonable haste and showed predetermination.

However, ERA member Greg Wood said the review was done for genuine reasons and the outcomes were ones which a fair and reasonable employer could have reached.

In the lead-up to her redundancy Ms McDonald was told in May last year that there was no alternate position for her in the proposed new structure and two months later she was made redundant.

Another role was suggested as a possible reassignment position, but it was beneath her skill level and was paid significantly less.

Following various meetings, in which redeployment options were discussed, Ms McDonald was given one month's notice.

But Ms McDonald applied to the ERA for a stay on the notice of termination in November last year and following a telephone conference Ms McDonald agreed to take leave without pay while she was considered for other roles.

However, in early December, "given there were no suitable redeployment options for her", a letter terminating her employment was issued.

Mr Wood found Ms McDonald was entitled to reasonable notice of the meeting at which she was told the results of the review, which Mfat did not do.

Nor did Mfat provide Ms McDonald documents she requested which included submissions by other employees which could have bolstered her claims that her position should not be made redundant.

"This was an entirely appropriate approach for her to pursue," Mr Wood said.

"There is no doubt that these were two of the decisions of Mfat that caused Ms McDonald so much upset and heartbreak."

Mr Wood ordered Mfat to pay Ms McDonald $3500 in compensation, but found that no other remedies were appropriate given the procedural nature of the breaches.

- APNZ

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